By James Lakin | USA
Benito Mussolini, the forefather of contemporary fascism, once asserted that the “more complicated the forms of civilization, the more restricted the freedom of the person must become.” This logic prevails because serfdom is best employed in a state of entitlement, a state which was perpetuated by many of the most abhorrent leaders of the 20th century. Moreover, such a truth is held evident in collectivist governmental policy, which is best defined as socialism, fascism, or communism. For, when a government is deemed the moral arbitrator, not an institution intent on fostering innovation and personal liberty, it acts as a hindrance to the furtherance of the self-actualization of people. Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek contends the following:
“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”
This is indicative of the convictions of individualists, which are that the free market can exponentially increase productivity and that imposing totalitarianism on the pretext of material equality is morally reprehensible. Individualists subscribe to these notions because regulation and organization of people will ultimately result in the abridgment of freedom, thus disrupting social and economic innovation. Whereas, collectivists surmise that there is a way in which the notions of organization and freedom can reasonably be conflated. This article will explore the doctrines held by philosophers of both individualist and collectivist schools of thought and ultimately declare one to be superior to the other based upon the evidence presented.
Firstly, collectivists such as Karl Marx and Jean Rousseau, believe that the best means to govern society is through individuals acting as a collective, looking only at societal interests. Notably, Jean Rousseau believes that it is the job of the state to facilitate collective equality. He asserts that
“The social pact, far from destroying natural equality, substitutes, on the contrary, a moral and lawful equality for whatever physical inequality that nature may have imposed on mankind; so that however unequal in strength and intelligence, men become equal by covenant and by right.”
Rousseau is stating that although individuals possess intrinsic inequity, it is the role of society to combat it. If society collectively imposes monetary, lawful, and moral equality then it should diminish what differentiates individuals, something that Rousseau asserts would be societally beneficial, in theory.
An individual who expounded upon Rousseauian notions is Karl Marx. He believes that it is the job of the state to facilitate collective equality. He contends by stating:
“The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered forms, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes.”
This signifies how Marx believes that the rich merely benefit from the tribulations and innovations of the lower class and that to produce a truly equal society these individuals must be adequately rewarded by the state. He believes that this will correlate to increased productivity and better society as a whole. Essentially, humans are to put aside their inclinations for the sake of societal advancement.
The notion of collectivism is one which directly opposes that of individualists such as Elie Halevy, Adam Smith, and Friedrich Hayek who contend that the most efficient means of societal governance is compassed through personal governance. This is an overarching notion of a laissez-faire government system. Individualists rely on the selfishness and productivity of their fellow-man to advance the collective. This is because selfishness is an excellent motivator, which produces countless innovations. Such innovations can be seen in contemporary society because as society individuates and begins to respect the ideas of individuals, the best ideas prevail and provide both collective and individual benefits. Such innovations are displayed exclusively under capitalist-individualist societies, even the notion of socialism has yet to produce such results.
For instance, Elie Halevy contended that Socialism was inherently flawed because “, Socialists believe in two things which are absolutely different and perhaps even contradictory: freedom and organization.” In the mind of Halevy freedom and organization are contradictory, not complementary, a logical assertion considering that no time in history has allowed for a society to use both structure and freedom. In time, leaders will succumb to their primitive dispositions of lust and greed, corrupting a free and structured society.
Take, for example, the former USSR. This was a state which attempted to balance both freedom and organization. After the founding of the state 20th-century academia hailed it as the paramount of collectivist-communist government. Quality of life was allegedly good and it was presumed that individual liberties were being respected, however, such a “utopian” lifestyle was ephemeral. This is because individuals who control a collective can easily be corrupted by the power.
Another individualist philosopher, Adam Smith, contends that collectivist governmental policy puts institutions in a position where “to support themselves they are obliged to be oppressive and tyrannical”. Smith asserts that oppression can only endure in a state of collectivism. Under the notion of collectivism, expression and innovation are stifled, which both fosters an authoritarian state and unequivocally precludes the furtherance of society.
Finally, in Individualism and Economic Order economist Friedrich Hayek asserts the following
“The successful use of competition as the principle of social organization precludes certain types of coercive interference with economic life, but it admits of others which sometimes may vary considerably assist its work and even requires certain kinds of government action.”
Essentially, Hayek is asserting that the state acting as a collective is counterproductive, as it stifles entrepreneurship and business growth. When government interferes with the freedom of commerce or thought it is coercing society to adhere to proprieties that they don’t necessarily want to follow. In Nazi Germany, individuals followed the social structure prescribed by the government, which was that Aryans were superior to other Germans who were superior to Jews. If collective governance was not produced then the Holocaust would cease to exist. And though this is an extreme example, such a theory can be applied to all aspects of life. If individuals behave how they wish the results will generally be positive.
The inherent fallacy to collectivist doctrine is that it is irrespective of the ends to which it is produced. Collectivism focuses primarily on the notion that individuals ought to cooperate to further society while presupposing the ends will be produced because of cooperation. I repudiate this notion, as it fails to acknowledge the inefficiency of reliance upon benevolence. Individuals are inherently greedy creatures, as seen in the Ring of Gyges. To provide the leaders of a society with unbridled power over the collective is to provide them with a ring of invisibility, and no individual is so virtuous so as not to be corrupted by the position of power. The difference between individualists and collectivists is that individualists are intent on the ends, allowing people to employ whatever means necessary to attain the aspirations of the collective. What incurs is a time in which living standards and economies grow exponentially.
After researching both, I have deemed this to be the most logical course of action for a society, as it both subscribes to our nature and has proven to endure through millennia as a successful means of advancing society. Inherently, human beings are curious, independent creatures who desire the unbridled ability to expound upon this curiosity. The best means to do so are through freedom and expression. However, I am by no means an absolutist regarding this issue. There are many benefits to collectivist doctrine in theory.
However, “in theory” is the operative phrase. Collectivism is predicated upon the notion that everybody is utterly virtuous and benevolent. And although I would like to believe that humans are all benevolent creatures it would be grossly indifferent of me to state otherwise. However, this approach contradicts Marxist-collectivist approach, with Marx stating in the Communist Manifesto “, the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.” This is fallacious because it isn’t possible to implement an economic structure whereby there is no definition of property. What motivates individuals is monetary gain, and if no such incentive exists then society would cease to be productive.
Moreover, collectivism is inherently flawed because everybody isn’t virtuous, eventually, an individual will ascend to power who is sociopathic, inherently driven by the acquisition of control. This can be combatted through individualism, which allows for individuals to express their true nature while still assisting the collective.